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Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Gem City Ice Cream Building and the 1st Wright Cycle Shop

(Revised January 12, 2020) The Wright Brothers Cycle Shop formally located at 1127 West Third Street in Dayton Ohio is currently preserved at the Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village in Dearborn Michigan, purchased by Henry Ford in 1936, relocated there in 1937, and opened to the public in 1938 with the blessing of Orville Wright. The brothers relocated their business numerous times through the 1890's, and 1127 West Third was their last location. (The reason this location was of major significance is of course that this is where their aviation experiments took place; where they performed their wind tunnel experiments, where Charlie Taylor constructed the engine, where the gliders and flyers were constructed.)
In Fred Fisk's and Marlin Todd's book "The Wright Brothers from Bicycle to Biplane", the authors document six locations (there were likely actually only five) for the Wright Cycle Shop. The first location indicated was at 1005 West Third Street, opened in November or December of 1892. They remained here till May of 1893. Per Fisk and Todd, 1015 West Third was identified as the second location, but the evidence for this appears to have been due to a typo or an address deviation for the same location (1). The shop moved from 1005 to the second location at 1034 West Third per Orville Wright in a 1936 interview.(2) The authors write "The building that housed the first Wright brother's bicycle shop was torn down in 1927 and the former Gem City Ice Cream Company building now stands on this property. We believe this shop was called 'Wright Cycle Exchange'" However, in lieu of being torn down, the building that housed the Wright brother's bicycle shop was actually preserved during expansion 16-17 years prior. The existing structure of 1005 was expanded in 1910-1912 to include 1005/1007 including major expansion to the north. The structure was expanded further westward in 1920/21 and listed as 1005/1007/1009/1011 in 1921. Then, in 1929 (in lieu of 1927), additional expansion behind to the north was constructed.This structure was described as "A modern garage building at the rear of the plant...The new garage building will enable the Gem City Ice Cream increase its delivery facilities by adding other trucks which can be housed in the new building." (6) Today, this truck building no longer stands.

Artwork from company 1928 letterhead (from author's collection) depicting Gem City Ice Cream Building. The drawing shows the Garage Building behind which was constructed in 1929. The original front section just behind the portion of the sign that reads Cream Co. was the Wright Cycle Exchange location.

3D view of Gem City Ice Cream Building as it stands in 2019 showing original structure 1005/1007, and 1911 plant expansion behind this structure. The 1920/21 plant expansion is shown behind 1009/1011. The 1929 Gem City Garage Building to the north is now an empty lot. Courtesy of Google Earth, created by author.

One of the many ice cream treats offered by Gem City Ice Cream. From page 21 of "The Modern Hostess Book" publication of the company

New addition constructed in 1910-1911, Architect E. J. Mountstephen. From The Dayton Herald, Saturday December 31, 1910 issue.

The Gem City Ice Cream Company was established in 1901 with Louis E. Ellis as president, and Chas. Dugdale as treasurer, and located at 1005 West Third Street. George D. Antrim joined the company and in late 1910 through 1912 the company expanded, occupying both 1005 and 1007, with major expansion to the north as pictured above. Poor timing, as the 1913 flood would have caused major damage on the recently expanded business. "The new building will enable the company to triple its output.....the building...has to be completed ready for occupancy within forty working days." (5)

As pictured in Dayton Daily News, Sunday, February 22, 1914 issue.

In 1927, Lewis E. Ellis was president, George D. Antrim was vice president, Herbert R. Ellis was secretary, and Guy L. Antrim was treasurer. Lewis died suddenly on September 24th of 1928 at the age of 58, and George Antrim became president of the company, Guy L. Antrim vice-president, and Herbert R. Ellis secretary and treasurer. George remained president of the company until the late 1940's. In 1950, Herbert Ellis was president, and Guy Antrim vice-president, with John T. Smith secretary, treasurer. George was Chairman of the Board. George Antrim died in 1958. Both Guy Antrim and Herbert Ellis died in 1978. 

Comments by Bob Ellis on The Ohio registered name of Gem City Ice Cream was cancelled August 7, 1978. If comments are correct, George retained 50% ownership after retirement. Guy Antrim did more than just work in the manufacturing and lab departments in the 1950's; Guy was vice-president from the 1930's on.

In Timothy Gaffney's book "The Dayton Flight Factory", the author writes "The first bicycle shop location later became the Gem City Ice Cream Company. The company put its name on the building's facade...In the years after the Wright Cycle Exchange occupied it, the building underwent many modifications, and most of the architecture associated with the bicycle business was lost. Its facade remained a part of the West Third streetscape in 2014, but the structure was in sad shape and at risk of collapse."
Per a Dayton Daily News article written February 8, 2012 by Jeremy Kelly, the author writes "City Planner Roane Smothers confirmed that three walls of the original two-story bicycle shop that the Wrights ran in 1892 are still standing inside the current structure. But Assistant City Manager Shelly Dickstein said that when the building was reviewed for inclusion on the National Register years ago, there wasn't enough 'historic integrity' to get it designated as a Wright site."
Gem City Ice Cream Company building prior to the 1921 and 1929 expansion, Dayton, Ohio.

1949 GIS aerial view showing the Gem City Ice Cream Company in full operation, with Orville's Lab at 15 North Broadway still standing. The 1127 Wright Cycle Shop and 7 Hawthorn Wright home had been located to Dearborn Michigan and empty lots can be seen in this view.
2016 Aerial view, courtesy of Google Earth edited by author to indicate location of first Wright Cycle shop at 1005 West Third Street, Dayton, Ohio in 1892/3. The location was occupied by The Gem City Ice Cream Company in 1901. Former location of 1127 West Third Wright Cycle Shop is shown to the west, and former location of Orville's Lab on North Broadway is also indicated.

Location of Wright Brother's first Cycle Shop, Author's collection
Period photo from author's collection of Gem City Ice Cream Building. Note address of 1005 to right, footprint of location of Wright's first Cycle Shop. George Antrim is likely one of the men pictured, but I'm not sure which. My guess is second from rear of truck. See more detail in the photo below. Lew E. Ellis is furthest to the right as identified by his great-grand daughter Karen Mays (see reader's comments).  Can anyone identify the others?

From Matt Yanney archives.

Gem City Ice Cream Building as pictured in The Dayton Herald, March 6, 1929.

Location of first Wright Brother Cycle Shop
The Gem City Ice Cream Building as it appears today; photo taken by author June 27, 2017.

Gem City Ice Cream "The Modern Hostess Book"

December 2014 view of east side of Gem City Ice Cream Company front original section. White concrete structure building to rear is 1927 addition. Facade at front south end facing West Third street replaced the original facade shown in top picture. 1927 facade across original and 1927 addition shown below, also dated December 2014. Photos by author.

 It does seem a shame to lose this structure, but preservation would be costly. One alternative would be to preserve the original southeast section, and demolish the 1927 structure. This would require structural work of course, which could be accomplished, but funding would need to be available. Even beyond preserving and renovation of this portion of the structure, the expenses would continue in maintaining and staffing the site. The portion that housed the first Wright Cycle Shop has a basement, first, and second floor level. Below shows the first floor level with proposed new stairwell to basement and second floor level (floor plan prepared by Moody Nolan in 2002). West Third Street is to the top of the sheet.

The buildings west of this site, north side of West Third Street, at the corner of West Third and Williams were preserved in 2002. Those structures were in such bad condition, the interior second floor of the two story structure had been removed, and the exterior walls had been shored up with cross bracing prior to 2002 until the buildings could be renovated. Below, before picture from 2001, and after renovation, photos by author.
Near Wright Brothers Cycle Shop

Just to the west of those buildings is the empty lot where the last Wright Cycle Shop was located, now in Michigan. See below.

Further west at North Broadway is the empty lot where Orville Wright's Lab building used to be located before it was demolished in 1976. 
From George Doyle Antrim's book "The Tale of Two Dogs and other short tales", copyright 1950, the Gem City Ice Cream Company president at that time wrote "It was in 1901 that Lewis E. Ellis came to Dayton and started this company. Two years later, young George D. Antrim joined him in the partnership that was to continue until the present corporation was formed in 1927. Such words at 'panic', 'depression', 'flood', 'war', 'boom', 'recession', have been on the lips of the people through most of these past fifty years. Under the leadership of Mr. Ellis and Mr. Antrim our company has gathered size, strength, and reputation through good times and bad."

George Antrim wrote to his grandson in August of 1928, sending the letter by U.S. Airmail. He writes:
"This evening at 6 P.M. the first U.S. Airmail Plane operating on regular 'skedule' over a regular route will land, leave and take on mail and take off at the Wilbur Wright Field. It will come from Louisville Ky. via Cincinnati, stopping here only long enough to exchange mail and take off for Cleveland where it makes direct connection with the N. Y. to California Route.......So I am writing this to you for a sort of souvenir. It will be no doubt the first letter you ever got by air mail, also it will be the first one I ever sent by air and it will leave here on the first mail service air ship operating over this route." 
The original letter from my collection is shown below, and below that, a page from a Gem City Ice Cream product brochure.

"A Pig Tale And a Few Others" was published in 1940 in which George Antrim wrote the following poem to Orville Wright for Orville's 68th birthday-

From A Pig Tale, by George Antrim

George Antrim wrote the following poem to Orville Wright for Orville's 75th birthday, August 19, 1946. Per George, "Some friends of Orv gave an 11:00 A.M. breakfast in his honor at the Van Cleve Hotel. I was invited and asked to write some verses for him.....Ed Smith of N.C.R. had photostatic copies made and framed for each one present. All of us then signed it." (3)

Dear Orville:
Some folks would spend their dough and time
And buy for you a shop made rhyme;
A neat, a decorated card
With verses by a Birthday Bard,
But we prefer to pick our lyre
And save our dough to buy a tire
Or shoes and shirts and spuds and meat.
The things we need to wear or eat.

And yet, on this your natal day
The words won't come, we'd like to say:

Orv, you and Wilbur sowed the seed
That revolutionizes speed.
The first to sail and chart the sky
You taught the whole World how to fly.
The bomber and the giant plane
Are but the children of your brain.

You've heard your name and praises sung
By every nation, race and tongue
While we, who've known you through the years
And heard the echo of their cheers
Today, in you we only see
The Orville Wright that used to be.
Unspoiled, unchanged. The same old lid
Still fits no tighter than it did.

Thou wizard of the skies and winds,
Though far beyond "Where life begins,"
We wish you many, many more
Each happier than the one before

Very Sincerely, 
Geo. Antrim
(Original copy shared by Melissa Stephenson of New Hampshire.)

Orville Wright passed away January 30th, 1948. During a tribute to Orville the following week, George Antrim had this to say about his good friend-

"For over 50 years, I have known Orville Wright, probably as well as any person, except those who went to school with him. I would like to tell two stories about Orville that sum up his character."
"Claud Protsman, a salesman who always patronized the Wright Brother's bicycle shop, received a Canadian quarter (worth twenty cents) and thought he could pass it off on the Wright Brothers. He decided on Orville because he thought he would be an easier mark than Wilbur. The short lecture Orville gave him for lying and trying to cheat emphasized Orville's high regard for truth and honesty."
"Then I'd like to relate an incident that had to do with Orville's character as a neighbor. That is, when he helped Frank Hamburger boost a half carload of nails up out of his cellar of his hardware store on the morning of March 25, 1913, because he hated to see Frank lose a few nails because it looked like the river was coming over the levees, and it was predicted that before noon everybody on the West Side would have a cellar full of water. Orville got his helper, Charles Taylor and, together with Frank and his clerk, they boosted the nails onto the ground floor. Frank, in telling me about it, said, 'We worked like beavers, and when I offered to pay him, he wouldn't take a cent. Then you know what happened? By 3 o'clock that afternoon the water had taken the paper off the ceiling and soaked the carpets on the apartments above the store."
"When I was president, in 1928, and we had a meeting in honor of Orville, I told those two stories that had never been told before. Just to make Orville feel at home, I had Charlie Webbert, from whom he rented the shop; Frank Hamburger, the hardware man; Jessie Gilbert, who ran the coal business in the next block, and Charlie Monback, the barber, who had given Orville more close shaves than he ever got in an airplane, on the platform."
"When I told that nail story, I said that a lot of fellows didn't like to set a price for their work when they had offered their services, but many of them would accept a tip should it be offered to them; and since Orville had refused to set a price, it might not yet be too late for him to accept a tip. Thereupon, Frank reached into his pocket and handed Orv a quarter. I promptly fined Orville a quarter for accepting a tip for such little service, as being un-Rotarian. Doc Lewis, sergeant-at-arms, collected the quarter and kept it. And he still has that quarter!"(The Dayton Herald, Saturday, February 7 1948, Rotary Club Speakers Pay High Tribute to Memory of Member, Orville Wright)

Gem City Ice Cream offered quite a variety of ice cream treats. One of Orville Wright's favorite holidays was St. Valentine's Day, and pictured here are two Valentine ice cream treats. From the company's "The Modern Hostess Book", author's copy.

From "The Tale of Two Dogs, and Other Short Tales", by George Antrim, a poem is included honoring the Golden Anniversary of The Gem City Ice Cream Company.

Again, it is a shame that something of the Gem City Ice Cream site can not be preserved for future visitors to Dayton to enjoy.

See also "The 1913 Dayton Flood, and the Wright Family"

              "Index of Topics"

Google+ Comments were discontinued in February of 2019. To preserve prior comments, I took a screen shot and have inserted them below. New comments can be made in the comment box at end of this post.


1. In an interview by Ann Deines with Mary Ann Johnson dated February 21, 1996,  Mary Ann states doubt that 1015 West Third address was actually a location of the Wright Cycle Exchange. She stated that she felt the evidence pointed to the address as being a typo. From the interview:
Ms Johnson: The first printing shop outside the house had been torn down. The second bicycle shop, the 1034 West Third, the building it had been damaged by fire, and I think it had just been torn down maybe in the 70's. It wasn't long before we got there. And 1005, the first one.....Even though Fred thinks there might be a 1015, I will say I have never found any other evidence, so I .....
Ms. Deines: For 1015?
Ms. Johnson: Right. And I've found some evidence where......well, some other evidence that I feel it's a typo. But that has to be decided. So we may or may not include it. I don't include it, other people do. But then we found out that 1005 had been incorporated in the building that's there now.....

Fred Fisk had first come across a newspaper section dated April 5, 1893 which included an ad for the Wright Cycle Exchange and the address of 1015 West Third Street. He contacted Nancy Horlacher with the Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library and asked her to check newspapers for this ad. She found the ad had been printed in the Dayton Evening Press for dates March 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, April 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, for a total of 14 ads. Then another 11 ads were run between April 11 and May 16, all indicating the 1015 address. 

Could the ad have run for a total of 25 times without the Wright's noticing an error in the address? Should 1015 have read instead as 1005? There is a history of addresses changing in this time period, and perhaps this building simply was assigned an address of 1015 for a few years, and then reassigned as 1005.

2. Orville Wright was interviewed November 20, 1936, and per interview notes provided courtesy of The Henry Ford Wright Brother archives, Dearborn Michigan, "their first bicycle shop was located in the middle of the one thousand block on the #1005 north side of Third Street, that they were in this location only four or five months- November or December, 1892 to May 1893. They moved because there wasn't sufficient room. Their next location was on the south side of #1034 Third Street in the same block. In the early part of 1895 they moved again, this time to 22 So. Williams Street where they began building the Van Cleve bicycle in 1896...."

3. In George Antrim's book Gales and Gals and other short tales, 1954, the published poem to Orville Wright on his 75th birthday is a different version than the one quoted in this post. I prefer the expanded version. The published shorter version is per below for comparison. 

Current photo of Gem City Ice Cream Building added June 28, 2017. Unfortunately, the next photo posted may just be an empty lot, and another landmark will be lost to Dayton.

Additional pages from "The Modern Hostess Book" added July 17, 2017.

Hi-res close up of men in front of Gem City Ice Cream truck added Dec 20, 2017.

Minor text revisions, October 25, 2018. 

February 4, 2019- George Antrim's poem for Orville's 68th birthday was added, as was the 1951 Golden Anniversary poem.

March 16, 2019, added removed comments. Added picture from 1921 Dayton Daily News showing expansion of Gem City Ice Cream Building to the west. Made corrections concerning the 1927 expansion. Added 1949 and 2016 aerial maps. Added Bob Ellis comments.

January 11th and 12th, 2020, additional information and corrections made concerning dates of various expansion projects. Added photos of 1910 expansion, 1914 picture of Antrim and Ellis, 1929 picture of Gem City Ice Cream Building, and revised and replaced 3D picture labeling expansion dates.

5. The Dayton Herald, Saturday, December 31, 1910, "New Ice Cream Plant Will Be a Model".

6. "Builds Garage For Trucks",  Dayton Daily News, Wednesday October 23, 1929.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Collecting Historical Items Associated with the Wright Brothers

A number of years ago, I began collecting items associated with early aviation, and then began to specifically concentrate on the Wright Brothers. Initially I purchased a number of early post cards, books, and newspapers. Coin and stamp collectors have ready made albums available for storage of coins and stamps, but such is not the case for collecting odds and ends of aviation history. Below, I offer my experience of how to acquire, and display your collection if you choose to delve into this hobby.
  1. Know your subject. The more knowledgeable you are of the history of the Wright Brothers, the less chance you'll be fooled by misrepresented items, and the greater your ability to identify an item of historical significance. 
  2. Be aware that sellers don't always know their subject. They may unknowingly describe an item inaccurately.  I've lost count the number of pictures or postcards I've seen for sale on E-bay identified incorrectly by the seller as depicting a Wright aeroplane, or one of the Wright brothers.
  3. Research previous sale prices of the items you'd like to collect. Search for items you're interested in collecting on E-bay, and keep a record of what the items sell for. On-line auction houses are another source of information- register free with a number of sites, and search their sales history for prices.
  4. Take your time. Build your collection slowly; the fun is in the search. 
  5. Watch your budget. If you're like most of us, you have a limited amount of cash for purchasing items for your collection. If you purchase this item today, and see a more desirable item next week, will you regret your purchase? 
  6. Beware of purchasing from sellers with little or no history. This is not a hard fast rule, as the first time seller may have a unique item worth purchasing, but just be aware of the risk involved. On the other side of the coin, I have seen examples of sellers with a decent history of sales, who then suddenly make a string of dishonest sales over a short period of a few weeks, and then disappear. 
  7. Tell a story with your collection. Collect similar items related to a specific event that together can visually provide an account of history.
Suggestions of subjects for your collection:
  • Items associated with the 1909 Wright Brother Homecoming Celebration, ranging from the many postcard views of the event which can be purchased for a few dollars, or an original lithograph poster of the event for a mere $35,000!
  • Items associated with Wilbur Wright's Hudson-Fulton flights of September and October of 1909.
  • Items associated with other family members, such as their father Milton Wright, or their sister Katharine Wright.
  • Collect postcards showing various types of Wright aeroplanes.
  • Collect newspapers from 1903-1910 or later providing accounts of flights by Wilbur, Orville, and others in Wright aeroplanes.

The following is an example of a small two page collection of items associated with the telling of the story of the reaction to Wilbur's first flights at Les Hunaudieres, August of 1908. James Tobin tells the story well in "To Conquer the Air", chapter 12, "The Light on Glory's Plume", pages 308-310, writing "It was over in less than two minutes- the first tight half-circle; the race down the backstretch of the track, high above the steeplechase hurdles; a second half-circle; the straight course back to the starting point; then the descent with extraordinary buoyancy and precision and a smooth skid along the grass........people were shouting and cheering......After the figure eight on Monday, (Wilbur) told Orville (by letter), 'Bleriot & Delegrange were so excited they could scarcely speak, and Kapferer could only gasp and could not talk at all. You would have almost died of laughter if you could have seen them.' Henri Farman was in New York...not having seen Will fly, he said: 'I believe that our machines are as good as his'." So the collection of items associated with this account is a postcard signed by Delegrange, a postcard signed by Kapferer, a period picture of Farman, and a period picture of Bleriot, accompanied by the account as written by James Tobin. The account tells the story, and the items bring it a bit to life.

Reaction to Wilbur Wright's August 8th, 1908 flights.
Suggestions on where to make your purchases:
  • Antique Malls- I've had some success with finding items at antique malls, but my wife and I have searched through a lot of stores. But something of historical nature might be hiding in one of those stores, so we keep looking. This is a hobby, and the fun is in the search. Antique shops have been a good source of books and bound magazines associated with the Wrights.
  • Antique Shows- One of the local County Fairgrounds hosts Antique shows once a month through the year. Many times I've returned home without a purchase, but occasionally I've found something of interest. As an example of the importance of knowing your subject of collecting, a number of years ago I came across a seller that had a stack of Religious Telescopes for sale. At the time, I didn't know that Wilbur and Orville's father Milton had been editor of the Religious Telescope from 1869-1877, and a contributor to the Telescope up to 1889. I just glanced over those Telescope issues, and went on. Today, if I came across that stack, I'd have been all through those issues. But I was lacking knowledge at the time. Since that time, I have acquired a nice collection of Religious Telescopes from other sources.

  • On-line Auction houses- I recently made a purchase on Cowan's Auctions. Cowan's is a Cincinnati Ohio based antiques auction house, and founder Wes Cowan has been featured as an appraiser on PBS's Antique Roadshow. Information for upcoming auctions is available at the website, and you just have to be diligent with checking the various auctions for aviation related material. I've been disappointed more than once to become aware of a neat Wright Brother item only after the auction had been completed; especially disappointed when seeing the selling price well below what I would have been willing to bid! Other auction houses are out there, but if interested, check out Cowen's Auctions.
  • E-bay-The majority of my purchases have been made on E-bay. The most basic search I use is "Wright Brothers". But this search only brings up some of the many items available that week. Again, knowledge is helpful here. One of my searches is "Bound 1908". This will bring up bound sets of magazines or newspapers from 1908. Why 1908? This was the year the Wrights demonstrated their flyer to the world. I also search "Biplane photo", and this turns up old photos of biplanes, and occasionally a Wright biplane. I actually have a large list of search words that I use, but I don't want to give up all my secrets just yet, or I'll be bidding against you!

Once you've made your purchase, preserve the item under your care. It is a piece of history, and you are its temporary owner. Preserve it for future admirers.

1. Store paper items such as postcards, newspapers, photographs, letters, brochures, etc. in acid free storage folders, such as those manufactured by ITOYA of America , Ltd. They make a variety of sizes of storage/display books. Prestige makes a nice archival folder with removable pages, at a higher cost.
ITOYA archival books of various sizes, and Prestige archival folder at right.

The 8.5" by 11" is ideal for letter size documents. The 18" by 24" size is great for storing and display of historic newspapers. Locally in Dayton, the folders are available through United Art & Education store locations.
ITOYA 8.5" by 11" works well for letter size documents. 
2. Newspapers from the early 1900's are very brittle. Handle them carefully, and protect them by storing in an acid free archival folder. Front page news stories are desirable as they are easily displayed in lieu of a story hidden within the newspaper pages. For newspapers that contain the story of interest on the inside pages, you can make a copy of the story and slip in front as seen below to keep an easy visual record of the story within.
18" by 24" archival folder works well for newspaper storage and protection.

3. Small booklets, or magazines and other items store and display well in the Prestige archival folder also sold at United Art & Education. Though more expensive, the plastic and paper are of a heavier gauge, and offer more support for heavier items such as the Smithsonian report below on Samuel Langley.
Prestige Archival folder works well for magazines and small thin booklets.

4. Postcards can be displayed in acid-free photo albums, protecting the cards and allowing viewing of card from either side if desired, without handling.

Dayton 1913 flood postcard collection.

Consider eventually donating your collection. One of the benefits of collecting is the preservation of historical material that might otherwise be discarded. If you are able to obtain unique items associated with the immediate family members of Wilbur and Orville Wright, consider an eventual donation of the items to a museum. Wright State University has an extensive Wright Brother archive, and would appreciate any donations of significant items directly related to Wilbur and Orville Wright, and to their immediate family. For more information, go to the WSU Special Collections website. Under Featured Services, select Donating.

Check out related posts-
"Value of Historical Collectables associated with the Wright Brothers"

"Buyer Beware When Collecting Wright Brother Items"

Index of Topics

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Great Scott! It's Wilbur Wright Back in 1909!

Oakwood's Hawthorn Hill was never home to Wilbur Wright. Wilbur succumbed to typhoid fever in May of 1912, and construction of the new home was not completed until 1914. Orville, his sister Katharine, and their father Bishop Milton Wright began the process of moving into the home on April 28, 1914. A century has since passed, and you now find yourself walking these same halls. 

Hawthorn Hill, taken April 27th, 2014, one day before 100th anniversary of move in date by Wrights.

You tour the first and second level with the others in your party, and eventually find yourself again at the basement level near the open vault door. You have been here before, and you wonder. Would it happen again? You turn away from the vault to watch your fellow companions begin to walk back up the stairs to the first level, when suddenly someone or something pulls you backwards into the vault, the door quickly shuts, and you find yourself standing in the darkness. All is silent at first, but then you begin to hear voices. The sound of water nearby. And you know somehow, though you don't understand it, you've just passed through time to another century, another place.
As your eyes begin to adjust, you feel a breeze blowing against your face. You find yourself standing in a field of grass.You sense some activity around you, and then you see two figures, difficult to make out in this dim light. They are in a large wooden shed working on a biplane. Something unusual though about their activity, as they are in the process of attaching a red canoe to the skids of the machine.....and you are suddenly hit with the fear that you have somehow torn the fabric of the space time continuum because of your presence here. Why else would they be doing such a bizarre thing? And then your memory kicks in, and you see a picture in your mind of a canoe in the skids of a flyer that you had observed at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton. "Now I remember!", you think to yourself, "the display at Carillon.....they attached the canoe because Wilbur intended to fly over water, the Hudson River....I'm at Governor's Island, New York! Great Scott! It's Wilbur Wright back in 1909!"

Original canoe on display at Carillon Park. The canoe's original color was red in 1909, which can be seen to the left where green paint has worn away revealing the original underlying red. The canoe had been stored at Orville's Lab.

You find yourself standing amongst a group of reporters, waiting patiently a short distance from the hanger in which Wilbur Wright and his mechanic Charlie Taylor are working. You see a young man walk over to Wilbur and hand him a letter. Wilbur looks at it briefly, and then continues his work. You know this scene. You know what will happen next. Louis Bleriot flew across the English Channel in July of 1909. Wilbur Wright was about to become the second person to fly across a body of water, but this one much more dangerous, due to the unpredictable and unknown characteristics of the air currents and updrafts due to the city environment.
You strike up a conversation with a reporter next to you. He says his name is Smith, works for New York World, and he's having the time of his life. He enthusiastically shares with you his impressions of Wilbur.
"I've spent days with this wonder of the air, waiting for the moment when all should be right for him to leave Governor's Island behind and soar up into the skies. I saw him every hour. I heard everything that he had to say. Yet not once during those eventful days did I hear him make a boast, or brag about the wonderful achievements which have set the world to talking. And of the equally splendid achievements of his brother Orville was he just as silent." (You remember fondly of meeting Orville on your first adventure as told in "A Journey Back in Time- An Interview with Orville Wright". You marvel that you traveled back from 2014 to 1940 to meet Orville, and now in 1909, that meeting won't occur for another 31 years. Your head begins to swim.) The reporter continues talking.
"Don't imagine for a moment that Wright is rude or boorish- that is the last thing in the world one may say of him. Discourtesy is not in his makeup. Ask him a point blank question and he will give you an answer. But his answer is always short. There is no chance for misinterpretation. Nine times out of ten it shuts up the interviewer like a clam- the interviewer who makes his questions annoy Wilbur Wright you find it out. He doesn't like to be annoyed. The minute you meet him you get the impression in some way or other that Wilbur Wright wants to be left alone with his own thoughts.....He likes solitude. 'I'm not a sport', he told me one day. 'I'm making these flights for the good of mankind, for the good of the future. I'm not sport enough to fly for the amusement of people'."
Smith stops talking as he's suddenly drawn to the movements occurring at the hangar nearby. Wilbur and Charlie are beginning to move the Flyer out the shed! You hear him say "It looks like a good day for flying". He points his finger toward your way and the group of reporters you stand amongst, and he says "It'll do you boys good to do a little work after loafing around here for a week." The crowd surrounding you immediately rushes toward the machine, moving it from the hangar several hundred yards over the sand to the starting monorail.

Wilbur Wright, Governor's Island, October 1909.

This is the moment the reporters, and the local population have been waiting for. You think how we take flight for granted in our century, but in 1909, most people have never seen an airplane fly. In the words of the reporter Smith, "When Wilbur Wright arose from the sands of Governor's Island, soared past the Battery, glided up the Hudson, passed the battle-ships riding at anchor 200 feet below him, and then returned to the starting point, not twenty feet from his monorail, he accomplished the most spectacular flight in American history- probably the most remarkable flight ever achieved by man in the air. People had been waiting days and days to see him fly- as I had. He was taking on a flight for all New York and its legions of visitors to see, hundreds of thousands of them. The word flew round like magic; in cohorts the people rushed to points of vantage along the river front or to the tops of tall buildings. All New York wanted to see this human bird essay the air. All the way up the river, making history with every whirl of the propellers, tooting whistles and rousing cheers greeted this man-bird; guns saluted him, flags were dipped to him. It was an ovation from one end of Manhattan Island to the other for this wonderful man- enough to turn the head of even the best poised of us all."

Wilbur Wright flying at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 1909. Wilbur circled the Statue of Liberty September 29th, and flew to Grant's Tomb and back over the Hudson River from Governor's Island, October 4th.

You watch as Wilbur lands. As he climbs out of the seat, you hear him say "I'm mighty glad I came to New York, and I'm glad I was able to do a little something."
"A little something, think of that!" Smith says to you. "After sailing twenty miles through the air at a speed of fifty miles an hour, faster than most railroad trains travel; successfully navigating the unseen eddies and holes in the air that exist nowhere else as they do around sky-scraping Manhattan Island, swooping down from a height of 200 feet to within ten feet of the waters of the Hudson, skirting close to the docks along the shore so that people could get a good view of his craft as it sailed through the air- after performing this most marvelous of aerial feats, to say that he was glad he was able to do a 'little something'!"
The morning turns to the afternoon, and you see Wilbur and Charlie at the propellers, starting the aeroplane for another flight.  Then suddenly, an explosion, causing you to jump.The cylinder head of the engine blows out. Wilbur turns toward you and the reporters and says "I hope that everybody will realize that it is not my fault, and that I would have done the best I could if this accident had not happened. I never saw as ideal flying conditions and I really think I could have done pretty well."
Smith says to you "That's the nearest that I have ever heard the man come to bragging".
You want to meet Wilbur and shake his hand; warn him that he should avoid shellfish while traveling. You follow 20' or so behind him as he heads for and then enters the shed. If you can just convince him somehow, perhaps he'll avoid the deadly meal in early 1912 that gives him typhoid and brings a close to his eventful life. He'll likely think you're a bit odd, and you just might risk "annoying" him, and Smith warned you that Wilbur doesn't take well to being annoyed. As you approach the shed, you hesitate for a few seconds, but then you swing the door open, and step in.

In lieu of the interior of the shed, you find yourself back in the basement of Hawthorn Hill. Turning around, you see the open vault door. Peering back in, just a small room of storage items is evident.

You might be interested-
About Hawthorn Hill, read Wright State University "Out of the Box" blog by Lisa Rickey-  100 Years Ago Today: Wrights move into Hawthorn Hill  Lisa provides links to some interesting early pictures of construction.
For a good chapter on Wilbur's flights at Governor's Island, read "To Conquer The Air" by James Tobin, 2003, chapter 13, "The Greatest Courage and Achievements"

For historical accuracy, quotes from reporter H. M. Smith are taken word for word from his October 17, 1909 article in New York World, "A Week with Wilbur Wright".

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Just How Many Wright Aviation Companies Were There?

In an attempt to get a handle on the various aviation companies using the Wright name, the following is a partial listing. Note that The Wright Company, Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation, Wright Aeronautical Corporation, and finally the Curtiss-Wright Corporation can be viewed as the same company progressing through changes of name, mergers, ownership, and manufactured products. The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company was a separate company from the above.

The Wright Company- organized November 22, 1909 with Wilbur Wright as President, Orville Wright and Andrew Freedman as Co-Vice President. Wilbur died in 1912 and Orville as President sold the company October 15, 1915. Company headquarters was based in New York City, while the company factory was located in Dayton Ohio.

Rear cover ad on November 1913 issue of "Flying and The Aero Club of America Bulletin", from Orville Wright's library.
Wright Flying Field, Inc- for training of new pilots (1910-1916), the Wright Flying School was offered at multiple locations:
Montgomery, Alabama (March-May 1910)
Huffman Prairie, Dayton, Ohio
Hempstead Plains, Long Island, NY
Augusta, Georgia

The Wright Flying School, Hempstead Plains, Long Island, NY, Aerial Age Weekly, May 15, 1916

Wright Flying Field, Inc, Aerial Age Weekly, October 16, 1916 issue.

Wright Exhibition Company- March 1910- November 1911. Flight performances managed by Roy Knabenshue. Shut down by Wright Brothers due to pilot fatalities.

Eye witness account from Harvard-Boston Aviation Meet held September 3-14th, 1910. Card is dated September 10th, 1910. "Boston Aviation Field- We are watching the air ship flights outside of Boston. Two machines have gone up and we are waiting for the main event."

Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation- The Wright Company was merged with the Glen L. Martin Company in 1916 to form Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation, location Los Angeles, California. Glen Martin left the company within a year, and the company was renamed Wright Aeronautical Corporation in 1919.

Wright-Martin, July 1, 1918 issue of Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering.

Wright Aeronautical Corporation- Founded in 1919, eventually merging with Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company in 1929. The Wright Aeronautical Corporation kept its name though a part of Curtiss-Wright well into the 1940's through WWII. A publication from 1953 refers to the publisher as Wright Aeronautical Division Curtiss-Wright Corporation (Preliminary Data WTF-10 Turbofan).

Wright Aeronautical Corporation 1928 blueprint

Dayton-Wright Airplane Company- formed in April 1917 by Kettering, Deeds, and the Talbotts as Dayton Airplane Company, and then as the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company when Orville Wright was brought on as a consultant. Was purchased by GM in 1919 and closed by GM in 1923.

Dayton-Wright Airplane Company 1918 publication telling accomplishments of company.
Dayton-Wright Airplane Co., July 1, 1918 issue of Aviation Aeronautical Engineering.

Curtiss-Wright Corporation- Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company of Buffalo, NY and Wright Aeronautical Corp of Dayton, OH merged on July 5, 1929 to form Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

Companies licensed to manufacturer Wright models:

Burgess Company and Curtis Inc.- Licensed to copy Wright Brother airplanes from February 1, 1911 through January of 1914. Named shortened to Burgess Company in 1914, until company closed in 1918.

Period photograph of Burgess Wright aeroplane. Note Burgess name on the triangular blinkers.

La Compagnie Generale de Navigation Aerienne- "formed in December of 1908, to manufacture and sell Wright airplanes in the French market" per Edward Roach in "The Wright Company".

1910 advertisement for CGNA

Flugmaschine Wright-GmbH- Aeronautics, June 1909, announced formation of this company, per Wilbur & Orville Wright A Bibliography, 1968, "which acquired the Wright German patents and the rights for manufacturer of the Wright aeroplanes in Germany as well as sales rights for Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxemburg, and Turkey." The board of directors included Orville Wright.

Short Brothers- per Edward Roach in "The Wright Company", "The Wrights....contracted with Short Brothers, a London firm, to manufacture their airplanes in Great Britain."

Recommended Resources for more information:
  • "The Wright Company" from invention to industry", by  Edward J. Roach, 2014
  • "The Dayton Flight Factory" The Wright Brothers & the Birth of Aviation by Timothy R. Gaffney, 2014.
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